Years ago I'd heard about these small geckos found in the South West arid region of southern Africa.
The barking geckos When you drive in these areas you frequently hear these tiny geckos calling out, especially around dusk and dawn.
I wanted to see one.
When I started asking about them, guides would tell me that you would very rarely see them. I remember a guide telling me that it would be a once in a lifetime experience.
I since think that perhaps he was a little too dramatic. But the point was, they are hard to find.
I did manage to see one or two in my first years in Namibia but when I started working at a lodge on NamibRand Nature Reserve, I was keen to learn how to find them better.
When I didn't have guests, I started going out in the evening with a game viewer (the cars set up to take guests on game drives) and trying to find these awesome creatures.
I would put the car in first gear in low range, so that it was going slower than a walking pace. Then I would stand outside the vehicle on the running boards and shine the spotlight on the road.
I started to see scorpions, geckos, beetles and a bunch of interesting things. There were a number of geckos that were much bigger and easier to find, but eventually I did start seeing the barking geckos.
Before long it was second nature and I could pick out the geckos at game drive pace. Guests would be amazed.
Guests would react by saying "You have such fantastic eyesight." I'd quickly point out that I wore glasses.
Some guests thought nothing of my skills, but some simply didn't believe that it was possible at all. They thought that I'd somehow planted the creature there.
In South Africa I saw guides doing similar things finding chameleons in the bushes. Some guests were really amazed that these guys could pull off these feats of observation.
Guides or often skilled at observation and that should be expected. But I'm even more interested in guests with some fantastic observation skills.
I remember my first ever cheetah sighting in Etosha. It was probably mid 1998, and we were two guides leading the tour.
Etosha has lots of Acacia brownii thicket. It's a thin kind of thicket. We had a Scottish lady amongst our guests and she'd worked as a nature something at some stage.
Needless to say, she spotted the cheetah first, but what was more amazing was that after we already knew there was one and expected more, it was her who spotted the other two as well.
That was not the last time I've been put to shame by my guests in observing skills. What has become of interest to me is what guests develop these skills.
Not surprisingly, in my experience it is always the guests who have some deep interest in nature. The kind of guests who would often be doing tours with companies like ours.
I want to suggest that the guests who come on tours with a passion and deep interest in nature deepen the experience of a tour dramatically.
A guide should have his skills and the guides I work with have these skills in spades. But when you're in a vehicle full of guests all observing with some skill the amount you see and experience just goes up so much that it changes the whole experience of the trip.
Birders are observers
I love leading birding tours and it seems like I'll be leading a couple birding tours in the coming months. I'm really excited about the possibility not only because I too enjoy birding, but because I know I'm going to have these rich, interesting trips.
Birders are observers, and I have every expectation of seeing not only lots of birds, but I'll have a fuller, richer experience of nature.
My gecko skills were build rather deliberately, but I think many of these skills are picked up by spending time enjoying nature. And the more you observe, the more you observe. And the more you enjoy the whole thing.
A few years ago I was guiding a couple. We were looking for a specific bird in a hilly area. We were on foot and at a hill we fully expected to find this bird.
We spent ages looking and just couldn't find the bird. I was getting a bit frustrated, since it was my suggestion that this would be the best place to find this bird.
After staring up at the hill for ages, suddenly we realized that there was a leopard about half way up the hillside. We'd been studying the hill for ages and couldn't even see the leopard.
It might be a bit like the famous gorilla/basketball experiment. You see what you focus on.
But I think it is just goes to show how amazing nature is. It takes some skill, some patience and real interest to enjoy nature to it's fullest.